Animated Enthusiasm

Ever want to talk about something and not know where to start?

That’s how I react every time I try to explain my interest in anime and manga. For one thing, I started watching/reading these now-popular illustrated story forms back when you usually had to start telling someone about them by explaining what they were. No one could even agree what to call them.

Back in the day (I’m talking about the eighties here), anime was often called “Japanese animation” or even “Japamation.” Anime was the easier form to find because translation didn’t offer so many challenges. I remember going to a Lunacon in 1989 (my first SF convention; maybe I’ll talk about that some other time) and stumbling on the anime room. There to one side of the projection screen sat a young man on a stool, freely translating from the Japanese as the story unfolded.

Translations were also made “by fans for fans” to be traded, not sold. Lots of my early exposure to anime was in this medium, via gifts from my well-connected friend Diana Bringardner. The translations weren’t always great, but there wasn’t the censorship that came up later when the first large scale attempts were made to issue anime for “Western” audiences.

Anime and manga are not cartoons and comic books, even if they superficially resemble each other. They’re both illustrated stories but, because in Japan illustrated stories are not automatically considered “children’s fare,” the content (oddly enough, even for the “children’s fare”) is much more complex and sophisticated than its American counterparts.

Like most American kids of my generation, my exposure to animation was either Disney films or short television cartoons. I loved animation (especially for fairytales, fantasy, and the like) because there were no clumsy costumes or bad sets to pull me out of the story. (Gee, that dragon is really a man in a rubber suit).

Still, even back then, I tasted hints that there was something richer and more complex out there, stories where the “reset” button wasn’t pushed at the end of each episode. (I mean, did Scooby Doo and Shaggy ever learn not to go off by themselves to look for the monster?)

Those hints came in the form of two animated shows that occasionally appeared on the mysterious and hard to get “UHF” channel on our TV: Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer. No surprise to anyone, but Kimba was the one I preferred.

When I went off to college, I pretty much fell out of touch with any animation. I didn’t have a T.V. and personal computers were a long way into the future. In the mid-eighties, when I got my own place, I had access to a T.V. again. I discovered that American animation was now showing fantasy (which, if it was on the air when I was a kid, I missed). I watched He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and fell in love with the first season of Thundercats.

However, both these series had the “reset” button problem. Characters only learned a minimum from their experiences. In fact, continuity did not bear too close an examination. Characters changed at the whim of some “suit.” For example, I hated when Wiley-Kat and Wiley-Kit in Thundercats went from being rather daring tricksters to “cute kids always in trouble.”

After grad-school, I went off to Virginia to teach at Lynchburg College. There, at last, I discovered that anime was becoming more common. A friend brought over tapes of Urusei Yatsura and Robotech. In the early nineties, I met the aforementioned Diana Bringardner, who gave me Ranma ½ and a host of other offerings.

I was hooked. Here were animated stories with more consistency. Here were stories with consequences, where a character in danger sometimes died and injuries didn’t vanish a few seconds later. As a series unfolded, I would enthusiastically speculate on character background and motivation. More often than not, even in the lighter “kid-stuff” offerings, I would find those speculations rewarded.

I’ve stayed hooked. Now that both anime and manga are more widely available (even in my local library), I read and watch fairly widely. What’s on my shelf now? Full Metal Alchemist and Negima! in manga. I’m watching Sorcerer Hunters when I ride my exercise bike.

Speaking of which… Time for me to go ride. I hope you’ll join me when I periodically discuss some of my anime and manga favorites – or not favorites, even – on this page.

P.S. I’ll be in Tucson, Arizona this weekend for the Festival of the Book. I hope if you’re there, too, you’ll come and say “hi.”

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10 Responses to “Animated Enthusiasm”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I’ve only recently gotten into anime myself, depending on how you count the life action movie of Speed Racer. Loved it. I’ve also found it’s better told than American stories, generally. At the moment my heart is firmly planted in a subtitled only one called “Ginga Densetsu Weed”, (all about dogs, I think you might like it). I never would have tried one that wasn’t in English had a friend not put me onto it.

    Which makes me curious. Do you enjoy the ones that are subtitled, or do you prefer ones that have been dubbed?

  2. Jane Lindskold Says:

    Hi Nicolas,

    I prefer subtitled. I like hearing the flow of how the Japanese is delivered and adding the emotional content to the subtitles.

    I’ve learned enough Japanese this way that I can usually tell when the subtitles diverge widely from the spoken text — especially in terms of titles/ forms of address, an area that is so important in the Japanese context.

    When I read manga, my preference is for ones that retain the Japanese titles when possible, not just substitute proper names in a fill-in-the-blank fashion.

  3. Tori Says:

    Wow, a real-time translator?? That must have been really cool but I’m sure a lot got lost when there was a bunch of dialog.

    I’ve watched Sorcerer Hunters too! That was one of about five or so series that really introduced me to anime. I don’t know how much of the series my DVD contained but I recall being frustrated with the lack of closure. I think many animes suffer from that particular problem whereas their corresponding manga do not.

    I also prefer subtitles. However, there are one or two dubbed animes where the dialog has been changed so drastically that the two are like comparing apples and oranges. Shinesmen, a Power Rangers-esque anime, is a good example of this. I believe the Japanese version takes itself fairly seriously while the American dub’s dialog makes it a hilarious and irreverent parody of those “super team” shows.

  4. DS Baker Says:

    I too am a child of the 80’s. Being a hairy chested guy, I went down a different path. I discovered Apple Seed. At first it was a Manga then later was made into one of the finest Anime films I have seen. The cross-cultural divide that marks so many Anime films, is not as noticeable…

    As a series I like “Gun Kats” they remind me of “The Dirty Pair” and The latest versions of Samurai Westerns are fantastic.

    All the best!

  5. Jane Lindskold Says:

    Thanks for sharing titles y’all have liked. That’s often how I find new titles myself.

    Tori… The full series of Sorcerer Hunters has closure. Lots of closure and an ending that’s actually fairly dark. It’s one of those anime series that starts out with humor and ends with something I’ve got to call heroic tragedy.

  6. C Alaxander Says:

    My my… It was amusing to me to find out just how many of my favorite animation works of my younger days were anime when i finally got into it after a good many years (Most notably G-Force/Gatchaman a childhood favorite). But one pearl that stood out in the American animation though unfinished was ‘Pirates of Dark Water’, as it did not at all suffer the typical American cartoon problem of the Reset button, and was pretty much one of the first cartoons I’d ever watched with a real sense of continuity.

    If you would like a recommendation; Naussica: Valley of the Wind both the Anime and the Manga to it. Its pretty much the top of anything I’ve enjoyed in both anime and manga though there was an English version which gutted the original badly… to the point where studio Ghibli made it mandatory that any of their works to come afterward be translated without any changes being made which they did not approve, which gave us the Disney translated gems Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, both of which i also recommend greatly to any fans of animation itself as a work of art.

  7. Gene Wolf Says:

    I’ve been a fan of anime for, oh twenty years or so. I’ll mention three series that have moved me in some way that I have not seen mentioned in the previous posts. Being a computer geek much of my life it should come as no shock to anyone that I enjoyed Lain. There’s a connection between the real world and the wired world and sometimes they’re hard to tell apart. Then the storyline gets deep. *laughs*

    One of my all time favorites, simply for the attitude, is Hellsing (not to be confused with Van Helsing). Alucard is a character too unique for words. He has flair, he has attitude and I’m led to believe he’s not at all what he seems which is hard to imagine for a character as outrageous as he is.

    Speaking of things being not what they seem brings me to my favorite anime series, Wolf’s Rain. Wolves have vanished from the world and have been gone for a couple hundred years. Everyone believes that and the wolves are trying hard to keep it that way. They live among the humans and have found a way to appear as human. This is not even close to a werewolf story.

    The soundtrack is just as haunting as the series. The first cut “Stray” sums up the story in a beautiful blend of music and lyrics. I don’t believe there’s a bad cut on the entire CD.

  8. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for the recommendations.

    I’ve meant to try WOLF’S RAIN for years.

    And I’m a huge Miyazaki fan already. I plan to write about my reaction to his stuff later down the road.

    I haven’t seen LAIN, but I have seen BOOGIE POP PHANTOM (great, non-standard art), an anime apparently shares some elements. It’s best if you watch it twice back-to-back to savor the pleasure of how episodes interlock.

    Or maybe I’m just a geek for interesting storytelling structure!

  9. jenna Says:

    It’s always nice to read that other people appreciate anime and manga as much as I do. I got introduced to them about 10 years ago and have been hooked ever since. Some of my personal favorites are Fruits Basket, Kodomo No Omocha (my sentimental favorite, the first one I ever watched all the way through), Witch Hunter Robin, Cowboy Bebop, and Beck.

  10. NinjaMisha Says:

    Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more awesome…you go ahead and reveal this!
    I look forward to reading whatever entries you have on anime and manga!

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